How do we live with intention? – 12 Tiny Things co-author Heidi Barr

How do we live with intention? – 12 Tiny Things co-author Heidi Barr

by Suswati Basu
0 comment

Wikipedia defines “intentional living” as any lifestyle based on an individual or group’s conscious attempts to live according to their values and beliefs. And WSJ bestselling author of The More of Less and The Minimalist Home Joshua Becker says: “The worst thing you could ever waste is your life. Instead, commit yourself to intentional living and living with purpose.”

So why is intentional living important and how can we do it?

Thanks to the following guests for participating:

Wellness coach and co-author Heidi Barr wrote 12 Tiny Things: Simple Ways to Live a More Intentional Life alongside her co-author Ellie Roscher. Here is the interview:

Here are some of the resources from the show:

New York Times Bestselling author Shauna Niequist shares about the importance of being present as a leader at EDGE Mentoring’s third annual leadership conference, EDGE|X 2018:

Taking inspiration from legendary designer Dieter Ram’s philosophy of “less but better”, Greg McKeown outlines an antidote in his book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, which features practical tips on how to figure out what’s most important, eliminate the trivial, and establish routines for effortless execution:

Books looked at this week:

Heidi Barr and Ellie Roscher: 12 Tiny Things: Simple Ways to Live a More Intentional Life

Shauna Niequist: Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living

Greg McKeown: Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

PS. I do not receive commission for reviewing books and talks.


Exploring how we can master ourselves by looking at how experts say it is possible with your host Suswati Basu.

Intro music

Welcome to episode 37 of How To Be…with me Suswati as your timid presenter, guiding you through life’s tricky skills by taking this learning journey with you.

This week I was surprised to come across “intentional living” as its own Wikipedia page, which defines it as any lifestyle based on an individual or group’s conscious attempts to live according to their values and beliefs. So I got to thinking am I actually living intentionally? And why is it important?

Hence I spoke to author Heidi Barr, who wrote 12 Tiny Things: Simple Ways to Live a More Intentional Life alongside her co-author Ellie Roscher. Barr is a wellness coach committed to cultivating ways of being that are life-giving and sustainable for people, communities, and the planet. She is the author of Cold Spring Hallelujah, What Comes Next, Woodland Manitou: To Be on Earth, and Prairie Grown: Stories and Recipes from a South Dakota Hillside.

We spoke earlier this week, so you can find the full interview on or on the YouTube channel, but here’s a snippet on the importance of paying attention to sensuality.


The authors say we cannot prevent the chaos of the world, we can adapt ourselves to better cope with ever-changing circumstances, and through doing so bring about increased groundedness and fulfillment.

By boiling down our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors to their roots by looking at subjects like home, space, food and spirituality – these tiny practices become essential for self-care. That way, we don’t have to become overwhelmed with trying to fix the world, because we can start with tiny steps with ourselves.

While using the book, they recommend:

-Being gentle with yourself, honour your experience by being vulnerable and accepting support
-Be flexible in order to manoeuvre through changes
-Figure out what inspires action and drives your choices ie. Knowing your why
-Take small steps
-Embrace courage not fearlessness because in reality no one is fearless
-Own your discomfort while making changes

Starting with space, they say in the midst of a chaotic moment, we can stop and take a breath, creating space. We overfill our lives, hoping more will make us feel like we are enough but it takes courage to say no. When we prioritize creating space, we can clearly see how saying no to some things is saying yes to others. Carving out space in life is saying yes to our truest selves. Hence they recommend to say no to something and once a day, intentionally look up. Take in the vastness of the universe and feel the space holding you.

Next is bringing intention in work. There is joy in recognizing that life is more than what we see, or even what we do, on the surface. It is how we are showing up that matters at the end of the day. It is about being present both inside and outside of work by fully focusing on one or the other. Which is why Barr and Roscher says to spend some time in analogue, away from screens before reaching for your phone.

Spirituality is in the noticing. Attention to earth, fire, wind, water, space. Attention to the connection we feel to the earth and other creatures. When we feel adrift, it’s an invitation back to attention, back to devotion. And it doesn’t necessarily mean religion, but looking towards something bigger than yourself and keeping rituals to honour your small existence within the universe. Through grounding yourself and repetitive practices such as breathing intentionally, Barr and Roscher says you can enjoy the vastness around you.

Staying mindful of the essential gift of food roots us as well. Barr claims it’s alchemy to be able to put together a few simple ingredients to nourish the soul and body. Food helps communities root and grow, too. There is a certain magic in sharing food, especially food that was mindfully grown and prepared. To cook and share is deeply human. When we share that process of transformation with others, we’re part of the cycle of life.

We can choose with intention what we eat, how we prepare it, and how it is shared. Conscientious cooking helps build a better food system for all. To make the most of it, they recommend eating a meal mindfully, remembering the magic that is food.

We can’t deny that humans are drawn to beauty. People living in a way that celebrates style are practicing an alignment of the inner and outer self that others recognize and appreciate. It’s not about spending. It’s about cultivating a style to be aware of self and surroundings. Knowing our style can help us be responsible consumers as a result instead of buying anything and everything. This is where minimalism can be effective if you caught episode 35.

Similar to spirituality, nature invites us back into the interconnectedness of our ecosystem. The authors say we are a part of something bigger, cleverer, and more beautiful than any single organism. For example, dirt calms us (giving us essential microbes) and the Sun awakens us (giving us vitamin D). Fresh air, movement, and connection with nature have been proven by numerous studies to improve mood, even if we opt to go outside begrudgingly.

Hence they suggest making wonder a part of your exploration. Notice the beauty that pierces the ordinary days, there is healing in rooting in nature apparently. So stop and look around, otherwise you may miss it.

Healthy communication also fosters seeing and being seen. Technology has the potential to build relationships and connections in ways we never before dared to dream. If we are intentional in our use of it, we can set boundaries so that technology enhances and deepens our lives instead of distracting us from the good stuff.

Research does show, however, that people who can totally unplug from time to time tend to do better in life. Striving to communicate with integrity, committing to seeing and being seen, is a slow art that requires vulnerability, brings dignity, and fosters healthy community. The authors say to hand write a letter to someone close to you to have more meaningful communications.

Intentionally acknowledging those things for which we are grateful in our current lives, can can apparently create the foundation to live from a place of spaciousness. We can build a sense of grateful astonishment in the house or apartment or body that is our home.
As they say, home is where the heart is.

Barr and Roscher also add practicing sensuality is acknowledging our human need for intimacy and pursuing it joyfully. Rooted in self and reaching toward pleasure, our beings take up space with ease and grace, enjoying the moment wholeheartedly. When we can tap into what truly satisfies desire, and when we can give into the vulnerability that comes along with that, we’re taking up space in a way that serves our needs, and consequently, the needs of those we love. So what does it feel like to drink that morning coffee?

Creativity requires loyalty to the inner self away from the interruptions of ordinary life. Engaging in creativity renews our sense of personhood, alters our perspective, and helps us get in touch with the profound nature of ourselves. Just start. Remember how it feels to create.

We can also recognise the power of learning, and learning from failure apparently. The capacity to recover quickly helps cultivate self-efficacy and grit. When we can get up after a fall, we have deepened our roots. But we can also use learning to play with our limits to see if we can make room for growth. So try something out to learn.

We also have a tendency to go inwards to try and make things better such as with self help books ironically. But happiness research tells us that our happiness and well-being is closely linked to the strength of our relationships to friends, family, and neighbors. Embracing vulnerability allows us to be part of the give and take that defines being in community with the world. Barr and Roscher say to introduce yourself to your neighbours!

Our next book is from author Shauna Niequist with Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living. Here she is at the EDGE Mentoring conference in 2018.


The author takes you on a guided journey to embracing peace in a chaotic world. Niequist identifies three common signs that indicate you might be leading a lackluster life: 

1. Despite being busy, you don’t feel fulfilled
2. Despite your health suffering, you’ve never taken time to rest
3. You’re often indecisive about what you want

Even once we retire and our children have become adults, we’ll still have wants and needs to attend to. That is why it’s so important to live in the present. The propensity to keep pushing until we reach the next milestone is never-ending. But we never feel fulfilled.

Hence she says focusing on the present means doing what we want now. Even if you don’t have the means ie. Time or money we can negotiate for it happen. But this doesn’t mean being irresponsible It’s about accepting that circumstances are never going to be perfect but that shouldn’t stop us from doing things that make us happy

Even without a full bank account or blank calendar, we can still spend money on things we enjoy in the precious free time we do have. Part of embracing the present also includes learning to disappoint people and start saying “no.” We need to learn that this is okay and part of life.

When you choose to say “no” to things that don’t work for you, you also choose to treasure the things you say “yes” to. As you take the painful first steps down the road to putting yourself first, you could find your heart fighting with your brain.

The key is to accept that this pain is normal. It’s a sign that you’re growing and that better things are on the way. This journey will not be without its challenges, but if you push through, you will see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Niequist found that when she chose to focus on her strengths, she was no longer weighed down by her troubles. Similarly, when you assess yourself, you shouldn’t hesitate to embrace yourself for achieving things that aren’t sexy or adventurous, it’s about what makes you happy. After honestly assessing what you want, you’ll no longer look toward external events and achievements for happiness.

When you ignore your wants and needs, you lose agency over your life, and you’ll never feel internally fulfilled until you take back control. To do that, you need to figure out what matters to you and stick to it. Refuse to allow society or those around you dictate how you should spend your time. Moreover you can decide what kind of legacy you want to leave behind.

Legacies embody how you wish to spend your days on Earth and how you want to be remembered. If you do something that’s at odds with your desired legacy, you’ve lost control. This includes saying no to potentially promising opportunities that deviate, even temporarily, from your desired legacy.

Unsurprisingly, the lens through which people choose to view things shapes their perception of reality. Individuals who have grown accustomed to seeing the worst in others will only find themselves disappointed. Niequist argues that our attitudes are so powerful, they serve as a form of confirmation bias. That’s why she advocates for us to find our true unbiased selves. The path to a fulfilled life requires being honest and taking responsibility for our own unhappiness. She actually recommends using our envy to determine what matters to us and motivate you.

As long as you continue chasing the external validation of others, you won’t gain the most important thing needed to love yourself: self-trust. Even more, you’ll find yourself always trying to please others and forgetting what makes you happy. One way to overcome this is having fun without the need to achieve anything.

In the same way you have to make figurative space in your life for the things you want to do, you have to make physical space for the things you love by getting rid of the stuff you don’t. Less physical stuff means more space for the things that matter.

As a Christian, Niequist believes in a God’s unconditional love. But the main message is that, to live a happy life, you must accept that you’re worthy of unconditional love from family and friends. It’s not about perfection.

The next book is by management consultant Greg Mckeown who has coached at companies such as Apple, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Google. He holds an MBA from Stanford University where helped create the course Designing life. His book Essentialism teaches you how to do better with less by saying no to things like Barr mentioned before. Here he is speaking for Stanford Graduate Business School’s YouTube channel.


Mckeown says we should be focusing on what we should do, thinking instead about what is essential to our happiness and well-being rather than filling our lives to the brim.

In order to avoid drowning in unnecessary work, we need to adopt the principle of essentialism. Essentialism focuses on four main points:

Do less, but do it better. The cornerstone of essentialism is the never-ending task of identifying the less important things in your life to cut out, and doing what’s left over to a higher standard.

Reject the notion that we should accomplish everything, and choose instead specific directions in which you can excel. Essentialism isn’t about making tiny progress in many directions. Instead, choose a direction and make great strides in the things that matter most to you.

Constantly question yourself and update your plans accordingly. The process of deciding what’s worth doing and what should be let go is ongoing. The essentialist is always deciding whether what she is doing is actually worth her time or if she should invest her time and energy in a more productive area.

Finally, once those few vital tasks have been distilled from the trivial many, the essentialist wastes no time in ensuring that the changes are put in place.

Apparently the word priority first appeared in the English language in the 1400s, but it was only pluralised in the 1900s.

The thing is if we become overwhelmed by our tasks , then we lose our ability to make choices for ourselves through learned helplessness. That is, becoming so used to the feeling of being overwhelmed that we approach our lives with passivity. This was seen in an experiment with dogs where electric shocks were given, some received a lever controlling this others also received a lever which had no effect at all.

All the dogs who had the chance to stop the shock or had experienced no shock at all ran to the shock-free side. The ones whose levers were powerless, however, stayed in the shock zone and did not adapt. Hence if we surrender our power to choose, we essentially give others permission to choose for us. When people think that their efforts are futile, they tend to respond in two ways:

They either give up completely or become overly active, accepting every opportunity presented to them.

Next you may have to embrace concentrating on doing a few things very well, but also accepting trade offs as an inherent part of life. While it might seem simple enough to cut out unimportant tasks and leave only the most vital, in practice, we just end up becoming convinced that we can do it all.

Mckeown says to give yourself space to escape and see the bigger picture as it will help you pick out the vital from the trivial. Boredom can actually be good for you. A period of time in which you have nothing to do can give you an opportunity to think clearly about what needs to be done. In order to ensure that you have that time, clear a break in your schedule every day to give yourself time to escape: to think. This will help you assess which are vital and which aren’t.

In order to maintain focus on what’s important, essentialism teaches us to always concentrate on the bigger picture. One way to do so is by keeping a journal, but instead of writing down everything you experience, force yourself to write as little as possible. This will require you to think through everything you’ve done and sift out only what you consider essential.

The essentialist recognizes that play is also a vital tool for inspiration. Play can serve this purpose because:

-it helps us to develop novel connections between ideas that we would have never otherwise considered;
-it is an antidote to stress, which is one of the key factors in unproductivity and
-it helps us to prioritize and analyze tasks.

But as important as play is, it should never take priority over rest and sleep. Sleep increases your ability to think, connect ideas and maximize your productivity during your waking hours. One hour of sleep actually results in several more hours of higher productivity the following day!

Be ruthless in cutting away things that aren’t essential. One way to do so is by adopting the 90-percent rule. Start by considering the most important criterion for the decision you are making giving it a score between zero to 100 in terms of importance. Anything below 90, even an 89, would score a zero.

Another method is to decide that “if it isn’t a clear yes, then it’s a clear no.” A simple way to put this into action is to list the three minimum things that something must have in order to keep it, as well as three ideal criteria that you want it to meet.

Then when deciding on what to keep, something must pass the three minimum requirements as well as at least two of the ideal ones.

Mckeown says always remember, failing to say no to the things which aren’t vital can lead you to miss out on the opportunities that truly are. Be clear about your goals by having an essential intent: one main objective that is both inspirational and concrete. One way of checking whether your goal is clear is by asking yourself: How will I know when I’ve reached my goal?

The author talks about the sunk-cost bias, which is the tendency to continue investing money, time, effort and/or energy into something we already know is unlikely to succeed. You can easily avoid this trap by developing the courage to admit your errors and mistakes and let them go. Moreover, you can avoid this entire scenario by setting clear boundaries. Boundaries are not there to constrain you, but to make your life easier and more enjoyable. Check out episode 2 on saying no.

Once you’ve committed to the principles of essentialism, it’s time to grapple with the last step: execution. Becoming an essentialist requires you to identify what’s slowing you down and then eliminate it, rather than simply finding ways to work around it. In addition, you can prevent unnecessary obstacles by being prepared by having contingencies. It’s all about taking small steps, which helps create momentum, and gives you the confidence to further succeed.

But no matter what your approach, you’ll need to ensure that you stick with it by designing a routine. Routines create a habit, thus making difficult things become easier over time. It’s therefore prudent to create a routine that aligns with your goals.

So to sum up:

Barr and Roscher say in 12 Tiny Things, that to tend to the global, we must also work on strengthening the hyper-local: the self. Hence they say think about the following:
– looking at making space for yourself,
– being present in and out of work,
– practicing rituals to understand your small existence in the universe,
– eating and sharing the gift that is food,
– embracing your style,
– being captivated and grounded in nature,
– communicate with intention,
– home is where the heart and gratitude is
– give your mind and body sensual pleasures,
– keep creating and learning
– you are part of a whole community

Niequist says in Present over Perfect that You only live one life, and you should spend it honoring your true self by focusing on the present. Take control of your life by thinking about what legacy you want to leave behind, and sticking to it. Stop doing things for approval, and pay attention to what matters to you. This journey to discovering your true self is not without its challenges, but your happiness is worth it. So stop operating in later, learn to say no, confront what makes you weak so you can be strong, have fun, and choose happiness over perfection.

Mckeown says in Essentialism that in spite of how it might seem, only a few things are actually vital to our goals and well-being, and everything else is unimportant. By focusing on these few essential things and learning to do better by doing less, we can craft a life that is far more productive and fulfilling. Hence he recommends try instead to find ways to cut things out that are trivial.

I spoke to lots of people this week on Twitter Spaces and Clubhouse who said being intentional is understanding what our fundamental values are and aligning it in accordance to this. So making sure there’s real purpose for everything we do. I hope you enjoyed this, please hit subscribe if you did.

You may also like

Leave a Reply

Are you sure want to unlock this post?
Unlock left : 0
Are you sure want to cancel subscription?
%d bloggers like this: